The new-look Washington Capitals begin their season Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators. Get primed with The Post’s preview content, including line projections, NHL power rankings, an examination of the next generation of stars and an in-depth look at whether Alex Ovechkin can continue to defy the aging curve during what could be the most demanding season of his career.
The game has always seemed to come easy for The Great Eight, far outpacing goal production for even star players the same age. And all the while the Capitals have remained entrenched among the league’s upper crust. But as the Caps’ roster was bled by salary cap constraints and the expansion draft, the team’s competition continues to get stronger, younger and faster. To remain among the league’s elite will largely hinge on whether Ovechkin can continue to perform at his insanely high level. — By Isabelle Khurshudyan (Read More)
Long-term contracts for both bind them to Washington into the distant future. But what exactly will that future look like? — By Barry Svrluga (Read More)
The defending Stanley Cup champions are favored to repeat, while one of the team’s young superstars could bring his squad straight to the top of the Western Conference. And where do the Caps fit in? — By Neil Greenberg (Read More)
As Alex Ovechkin and the Caps again chase the Stanley Cup, they’ll have to do more than conquer Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. They’ll have to fight off the next generation of stars as well. And in case anyone forgot how good the kids are, Connor McDavid’s opening night hat trick provided a great reminder. — By Jesse Dougherty (Read More)
Before the Maple Leafs could assume this season’s position as an up-and-coming playoff contender, they first had to bust several myths about the franchise and its fan base. — By Curtis Rush (Read More)
Projected Capitals line combinations and defensive pairings to start the season
Andre Burakovsky (65) | Nicklas Backstrom (19) | T.J. Oshie (77)
The Capitals tried this trio in the postseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and while that top line didn’t push Washington to a win in that second-round playoff series, the combination still produced four even-strength goals in three games. The Capitals think the speed of Burakovsky complements the duo of Backstrom and Oshie, and that line is defensively responsible enough to be matched against opponents’ top trios.
Alex Ovechkin (8) | Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) | Jakub Vrana (13)
Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have had success playing together occasionally over the past three years, but now that duo will have a new linemate in Vrana, the organization’s 2014 first-round pick who made the opening night roster for the first time. Vrana is one of the fastest players on the team, and with Ovechkin bound to draw defenders to him on the left side, he could have plenty of opportunities to score from Kuznetsov.
Brett Connolly (10) | Lars Eller (20) | Tom Wilson (43)
Connolly and Eller are both entering their second season in Washington, so now that they’re more comfortable with the team, the Capitals are hopeful they will have better starts to the season than they did a year ago. Wilson is suspended for the first four games, but when he is back in the lineup, Coach Barry Trotz has challenged him to finish with a double-digit goal total this season.
Tyler Graovac (91) | Jay Beagle (83) | Devante Smith-Pelly (25)
Beagle anchored one of the best fourth lines in the NHL last season, but with Wilson moving up in the lineup and Daniel Winnik now in Minnesota, Beagle has new wingers on both sides. Graovac and Smith-Pelly impressed in training camp, but Alex Chiasson and Nathan Walker could compete for time here, too.
Extras: Alex Chiasson (39), Nathan Walker (79)
Dmitry Orlov (9) | Matt Niskanen (2)
Orlov and Niskanen made up Washington’s best defensive duo last season, drawing challenging assignments but still helping the Capitals control possession whenever they were on the ice. With the Capitals experiencing upheaval on the blue line this offseason, Orlov and Niskanen are the only intact playoff pairing returning.
Brooks Orpik (44) | John Carlson (74)
These two were a pair during the 2014-15 season, but injuries split them up the following year. Then Orpik was moved down to the third pairing last season. With Carlson in need of a new partner and no other blue-liner impressing much in the preseason, the Capitals are reuniting Carlson and Orpik in the top four. The team is hopeful that Orpik’s steady, stay-at-home style will enable Carlson to shine offensively.
Aaron Ness (55) | Taylor Chorney (4)
While this season could provide both players with the most consistent playing time of their careers, Ness and Chorney claimed their third-pairing roles because of their experience. Chorney has been on the Capitals’ roster for the past two years as primarily the seventh defenseman, and Ness has 39 NHL games under his belt. While they may start the season in the lineup, they’re not guaranteed to stay there with Washington boasting strong organizational blue-line depth.
Extra: Christian Djoos (29)
Braden Holtby (70)
Philipp Grubauer (31)
While the rest of Washington’s roster may have experienced some turnover, the Capitals have the benefit of returning one of the NHL’s best goaltending tandems. Holtby has been a Vezina Trophy finalist for the past two years as one of the best goaltenders in the league, and Grubauer is entering his third year as Holtby’s understudy.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan
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